5 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books to start off the year

We’re already some way into 2017, but I wanted to take the chance to recommend some books I think you’d enjoy this year. These aren’t new publications but are simply books I have enjoyed reading in the last year. If you enjoy Science Fiction (or Speculative Fiction as it’s sometimes called) and Fantasy I’m pretty sure you will find something to enjoy here.

Many of these books to deal with adult themes, contain swearing, or are otherwise aimed at an adult audience. Just giving you a heads-up before you buy them for your children! Anyway… here we go!

1. Rivers of London

by Ben Aaronovitch

A murder witness approaches a Metropolitan Police Constable to give evidence. There’s just one problem… the witness is also dead. PC Peter Grant is then thrown into a world where he learns that ghosts, magic, and all other manner of fantastic situations aren’t actually fantasy; they’re very real.

Not only that, the Met has known this for quite some time and has a department to deal with them! PC Grant winds up working with the “magic department”, and learning a few tricks of his own along the way.

Rivers of London mixes elements of fantasy with comedy, has a cracking story, and plugs right into that sneaking suspicion that there’s more to the world than what we see.

If you enjoy this, there’s a series of follow-up books too.

Find Rivers of London on Amazon.co.uk

2. Old Man’s War

by John Scalzi

Old Man’s War is John Scalzi’s debut novel. I mention this because it’s probably my favourite book of recent times and I’m amazed that it’s his first! It falls firmly into the category of Science (or Speculative) Fiction. It’s the story of an elderly man who joins the Colonial Defence Force. Yes, this OAP just decided to join the army.

Why would he do that? As we learn in the opening pages, the CDF only takes elderly recruits, but it does so on the promise that it can make them “young” again. The process by which that happens and the events that affect our OAP once he enters military service had me completely enthralled from beginning to end.

Again, if you enjoy this novel there is a series of follow-up books.

Find Old Man’s War on Amazon.co.uk

3. The Martian

by Andy Weir

Mark Watney is part of a manned mission to Mars. He didn’t expect to be left behind, though, and become the first human to be completely alone on a planet.

There’s loads of gallows humour and science fiction actually based on science. If you’ve seen the movie and are thinking you would like there to have been more, this is definitely for you!

Someone once told me this book (and the movie) are for people who watched Apollo 13 and wish the entire thing was like the part where they were trying to work out how to make a new Carbon Dioxide scrubber using only what was available in the Lunar Module. That’s probably a fair comparison, actually, but it’s surprisingly fascinating to see how the various problems Watney faces cold be solved.

What surprised me is that Andy Weir didn’t have a contact at NASA he could ask about the tech of a hypothetical Mars mission. Instead, he crowdsourced the material by posting book excerpts online and allowing people to comment and correct him (and you know how the Internet is for correcting people!).

All in all a brilliant read, and highly recommended. Just be aware it drops the f-bomb in the first few lines but, then, if you were stranded on another planet I reckon you might be a bit sweary too!

Find The Martian on Amazon.co.uk

4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

by Douglas Adams

This is an absolute classic, and one I come back to again and again. Douglas Adams’ absurd tale of Arthur Dent, dressing-gown wearing survivor of Earth’s demolition (to make way for a hyperspace bypass), requires a certain willingness to abandon logic and just go with it but, I promise you, it’s worth it.

The story leaps from one bizarre situation to another in a series of highly improbable events that never fail to make me laugh even now, after goodness knows how many readings.

If you enjoy the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there is a series of follow-up books too.

Find The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on Amazon.co.uk

5. Neverwhere

by Neil Gaiman

Is what you see real? What if there’s more than just the mundane world we see around us every day? Richard Mayhew inadvertently manages to leave the mundane world and enter the magical world of London Below… a world where the normal rules don’t apply, and things take on a new and fantastic meaning. The caution to Mind the Gap on the Tube? It’s more than just about being careful not to fall between the train and the platform. The Angel, Islington? Well, in London Below it actually lives up to its name.

Richard’s adventures as he tries to get his life back and save a young girl called Door from assassination kept me enthralled from beginning to end. Now that I think of it, the hidden world here probably puts it in the same category as Rivers of London. If you enjoy one, I’m sure you’ll enjoy both.

Find Neverwhere on Amazon.co.uk

So there we go – five ideas of books to keep you entertained and enthralled. I loved all of these, and I have some others I want to tell you about in a future post. If you do read them, please do let us know what you think by leaving a comment or, if you want to say something after comments have closed here (we do that after a while to cut down on comment spam) you can pop over to our SubReddit and leave your thoughts there instead.

Loot Crate: Dead

Ah, Loot Crate. I do love the time of month when the postman knocks at the door and hands me a little black box of goodies.

If you’re unaware, Loot Crate is a monthly mystery box containing geek and gaming-themed collectables. There is always a t-shirt (that wasn’t the case in the past, but is now), and usually a Loot Crate exclusive item. This might be a modification of something available else where (for example, there was a Groot Pop Figure a while back that had a glow in the dark arm, whereas the ones available in shops lacked that feature).

All contents of the Loot Crate: Dead crate

The whole shebang

Well, in case you wondered where I was going with this, this month’s Loot Crate arrived earlier this week. The theme is… Dead.

Yep, Dead. It’s a mix of Deadpool and The Walking Dead items, so what else were they going to call it? More to the point though, what did it contain?

First, the t-shirt. Always my first port of call when looking at the contents, and this month doesn’t disappoint. It’s a cool Deadpool shirt and will get an outing very soon! You can see it in the picture above that shows all the contents of the box.

Daryl from The Walking Dead mini figure

Daryl from The Walking Dead

Then we have a couple of Walking Dead items. One is soap on a rope made to look like Daryl’s walker-ear necklace, and the other is a mystery Walking Dead mini figure. Not a LEGO minifig, mind you, although the base does have stud-holes that look like they would be compatible. Mine was Daryl holding his crossbow.

One of the things I think is really nice this month is a Q-Pop vinyl figure of Deadpool being blown along by an explosion… or leaping from an explosion… or having caused an explosion. I don’t know. But it’s cool and will suite quite nicely on the collectables shelf in my office.

Deadpool Figure

Deadpool Figure

Now that I come to think of it, I wonder what people must think when I’m taking part in a video conference and they see all this stuff behind me? They’re probably too polite to say anything.

And, of course, there’s the usual accompanying booklet/magazine and a badge. Loot Crate recently changed from lapel fitting badges (where the pin lies parallel with the back of the badge) to push-pin type badges. I have to admit I never wear them, but harboured plans to display them somehow. The push-pin types will be much easier to line up in a display, so I’m rather pleased they made the change.

All of this starts at $26 per month, plus shipping and handling. There’s also a monthly Mega Crate that contains some really spectacular goodies like gadgets, consoles, televisions, etc., but I reckon the odds of winning that are so small I don’t pay it much attention – for me it’s the monthly collectables that I love. My children also love it when the box arrives, as they really enjoy going through it and seeing what there is.

To find out more, or to subscribe for yourself, head on over to the Loot Crate website.

The links to Loot Crate on this page are affiliate links. If you sign up for Loot Crate through one of my links I will receive a reward. Just so you know :)

Loot crate day: Covert

Covert Loot Crate Goodies

It’s Loot Crate Day*! If you’re not aware of what Loot Crate is, it’s a monthly box of collectables, all geek or gaming themed, that arrives by post. I’ve been meaning to write about them for months but I never get round to it. Let me tell you this though, I love my monthly Loot Crate!

In the past I’ve had exclusive Pop Figures, comic books (like the first edition of the new Star Wars comic with an exclusive cover), sunglasses, t-shirts, and plenty more.

Each month’s box has a theme, and this month it is Covert. So, what did I get in the box?

  • James Bond T-Shirt. Poor James, we all know he prefers his Martini shaken.
  • Blink Time Stealth Watch. Worried about people telling the time from your watch without your permission? No, me neither but this watch is cool anyway; it’s just a black surface until you press it when the time lights up.
  • Spy Mad Libs. A spy-themed word game where you have to fill in the gaps in a story. You can play with others or on your own… you need to know your nouns from your adjectives, which I’ve always struggled with, but there’s a refresher in the book if you’re like me!
  • Paracord Survival Bracelet. OK, so imagine you’re hiking and find yourself needing a rope. Maybe you’ve injured yourself and need a tourniquet. Or maybe you just need to be able to loop it over a handy branch to lift your hiking buddy out of a sticky situation. Well, the Paracord is made out of military-grade parachute cord and can be upwrapped when needed to give you the rope you need. Or you can wear it, and it’ll look pretty good too.
  • Orphan Black variant comic book. The first edition of this sci-fi series about a girl and her clone doubles, with an exclusive Loot Crate variant cover.
  • Field Notes notebooks. Two lovely little notebooks for your ‘field notes’, one with graph paper one one lined.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. security lanyard. Now this… this made me gasp with delight when I opened it. I absolutely love Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and this replica lanyard is just gorgeous. If you’ve seen the series, these are the lanyards Koenig gives out once he’s happy you are cleared to be in one of ‘his’ super secret bases. This is an official replica licensed by Marvel.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Security LanyardSo, all of this starting at $26 per month, plus shipping and handling. I think it’s definitely worth it and, as I’ve said, I love it when my Loot Crate arrives. There’s also a monthly Mega Crate that contains some really spectacular goodies like gadgets, consoles, televisions, etc., but I reckon the odds of winning that are so small I don’t pay it much attention – for me it’s the monthly collectables that I love. My children also love it when the box arrives, as they really enjoy going through it and seeing what there is.

If you want to know more, check out the Loot Crate* website for details, including the prices and countries the boxes can be shipped to.

* Affiliate links – if you sign up for Loot Crate through one of my links I will receive a reward. Just so you know :)

It’s oh so quiet…

But I’m working on it.

Geek-Speak has been on something of a hiatus, but I haven’t forgotten about the site. I’ve just been immensely busy lately and something had to go.

I’m keen to get things back up and running, however, so stick around and I’ll hopefully get more of a chance to work on the site shortly.

Thanks for visiting – see you again soon.

Mum, take your tablet

iPad on grassSince everyone seems to constantly get older, and no one is getting younger, it’s no surprise that I now find myself looking after my elderly mother in areas where she and my now departed father would have coped easily in the past.

I don’t mind this after all she is my MUM….but it did get surreal when, a few years ago, she said she wanted a laptop and the Internet. She was about 80 at this point and had never worked a computer in her life; she even has trouble using digital TV. I went ahead and we sourced her a laptop. We then got BT, who she had her telephone with to give us Internet as well, it is easier when it comes to mum to have everything in the one place – believe me.

This seemed to be OK;  I placed shortcuts on her desktop and she merrily went along playing Solitaire and a word search game on the laptop. I showed her the email and Internet, but she never touched these areas as she thought she might get in a mess with it and break the laptop. I did explain that this would not happen but she did not take it any farther. Every now and again, when visiting, I asked to use her laptop and carried out all the Updates for Windows and anti-virus etc.

I later purchased a tablet for myself for ease of carrying and using.  I would get it out and connect to mum’s Internet and do some work while chatting and, while visiting her last year, she declared that she would love one of those; she was 84 at this point and remember the history of the laptop usage. Of course Apple had been filling the TV screen with images of iPads that you must have to complete your life but I was still surprised and put her off for a good few months. Each time I visited, though, and got my tablet out, she would say “I would like one of those and it would be easier than handling the laptop as I have to put it on the coffee table and bend over it.”

I tried to ignore it but in November she stated that I was to source one, buy it, and she would give me the money for it – she was treating herself for Christmas early. I went about the task and bought an Android based tablet that would be easily carried and large enough screen to be seen by her when using it. Of course I downloaded solitaire and a word search app for her and placed shortcuts on the desktop, which she uses. I showed her email again and Internet, I even signed her up for a G+ account and we had a hangout with my phone and her tablet in her living room. I thought this might help if she wants to chat and see someone’s face in the evening when she gets lonely.

When I now pop in I look for the tablet and it is in the box as she is frightened any children visiting will knock it off her table and break it. She tells me she does use it and plays word search or solitaire, but nothing else and I have sneakily sent her hangout requests to see if she is on it and try to get her to talk and use the hangout facility to no avail.

All good fun and makes me smile when I think about it.

Have you tried to introduce a non-technical family member or friend to a new gadget? How did you get on? Why not share your experiences and thoughts in the comments?

Ian Thomson is the founder of IT Turning Point, an IT Training and Consultancy company based in Fife, Scotland. Check out the IT Turning point website at www.itturningpoint.com for more information.

Coffee in history: The surprising effects of your favourite caffeinated beverage

This is a guest post by William Judd.

Coffee beans in a heart shapeCoffee is the second most-traded good in the world, after petroleum, and it is a ubiquitous indulgence in the western world that’s consumed by millions each morning. It’s hard to become that big without turning up in some odd places, and coffee has definitely done it all. Did you know that coffee was a key part of the development of stock exchanges, computing equipment and even revolutions? Read on to find the secret life of coffee.

5. Coffee breaks

The coffee break is commonplace across all kinds of businesses in the western world and beyond; a routine social gathering where workers take a few minutes to talk with their colleagues and higher-ups over a warm cup of coffee. The coffee break’s popularity in the United States is thought to be down to the work of behavioural psychologist John B. Watson, who developed Behaviorism and later worked with Maxwell House, a large coffee brand in the United States. The coffee break may have its origins even further back this though, with Time writing in 1951 that coffee breaks were written into union contracts. The true origin of the coffee break apparently originated in the late 19th century in the small town of Stoughton, Wisconsin, where the wives of Norwegian immigrants took regular breaks with coffee. The town still celebrates Stoughton Coffee Break Festival each year.

4. Haitian Revolution

Saint Domingue was the most treasured colony of the French empire in 1791, with the Caribbean colony producing about 60% of the world’s coffee and 40% of the world’s sugar at the time. Around 452,000 slaves worked to harvest the coffee, controlled by only 40,000 whites and 28,000 free blacks and mulattos. While the white plantation owners were scared of a slave revolt and prepared accordingly, when the revolution came in 1791 they were unable to stop it. The conflict continued until 1804, when plantation owners were roundly defeated and the plantations burned. The revolution brought a stop to slavery in the colony, which was reformed as the independent Haitian Republic. The revolution was the most successful slave revolt in the Americas, and was one of only two successful revolts against European powers before the 19th century – the other being the United States. Coffee production has never recovered, but that seems a trivial price to pay.

3. Espresso machine

According to my part-Turkish flatmate, the first espresso machine was developed in Italy by an inventive business owner irritated with the long coffee breaks his workers took. He devised a machine that forced water at high pressure through coffee grounds, producing a single-serve coffee drink that could be produced quickly. While it’s a cool story, I sadly haven’t been able to find any citations for it. According to what I have been able to find, the first espresso machine patent for an industrial espresso machine was developed in 1884, but it wasn’t until 1901 that key improvements including single-serve were perfected. Espresso has continued to evolve as a rapid single-serve beverage, most noticeably with the development of encapsulated single-serve coffee pods in 1959.

2. Stock exchanges and businesses

Coffee houses quickly became popular places for wealthy businessmen and intellectuals to meet in Europe and the United States; indeed such establishments were nicknamed penny universities (after the cost of the drink and the quality of the discussion therein). The biggest stock exchange in the world was started by 64 traders at the Tontine Coffee House in New York; it is now called the New York Stock Exchange. A number of other massive firms also began life as coffee houses, including the East India Company (which started life as the Jerusalem Cafe) and Lloyds of London (which began as Lloyd’s coffeehouse).

1. Webcams

My favourite instance of coffee prompting scientific enquiry came in 1991, when the very first webcam was developed. It was engineered in the Computer Science department at Cambridge, where a camera was pointed at a coffee pot and hooked up the network. Computer scientists working in the university could connect to a web page to check the level of coffee in the pot, potentially saving themselves a wasted trip. The same coffee camera was still running in 2001, when the development of high-speed Internet allowed the past vision of video telephones to finally become a reality. The webcam has since become ubiquitous on portable computers like laptops, mobile phones and tablets although the coffee cam has since shut down.

Conclusion

So there you have it – five interesting instances of coffee in history. I hope you’ve discovered something interesting about coffee. If I’ve left anything off, let me know in the comments below!

Give yourself a booost

Booost Oxygen CanNo, I haven’t misspelled that – I’m talking today about Booost Oxygen. Oxygen in a can. Let’s say right at the start that I was sent a sample can of Booost to try for free.

Now, wait a minute – isn’t oxygen available for free all around us? Well, the Earth’s atmosphere is a shade under 21% oxygen, with the majority being nitrogen. Oxygen is, of course, vital to the correct functioning of our bodies (if you’re interested, check out this article on what it’s used for) and there are times when we could do with more. If you’ve been exercising, for instance, you’ll be breathing more heavily than normal as your body tries to suck more oxygen into its system.

That’s the main thrust of what Booost Oxygen is for – it’s aimed at athletes who can benefit from an oxygen boost during exercise. But I’m no athlete, so what on earth would I want with an exercise aid?

Actually, it’s not just an exercise aid. The Booost site says it’s also great for hangovers, helps with headaches, improves concentration, helps at altitude, can be used by divers when decompressing, will give you a lift when you are tired or in need of energy, and can be useful in cities with high pollution.

Let’s go for concentration and energy
We recently went on a family holiday to visit my parents in Essex. We live in Scotland, so it’s quite a drive, and we decided to tackle it at night so the kids were more likely to sleep through the travel. The drive was fine, but when we arrived in Essex I was absolutely shattered. So I thought I’d give the oxygen a go and see what difference it made. I was a bit skeptical, but it was worth a shot.

Surprisingly, after a few breaths spraying oxygen into my mouth, I did feel more alert and less tired. It’s not a long term effect, but it does work. Around half an hour later I found I needed another boost, but that’s not bad given how tired I was! Of course, nothing will replace actually having a sleep when you’re tired, but for a short-term boost I found Booost did the job just fine.

I really was impressed with the quick energy boost it gave me, and I can see how using Booost during exercise (when I get around to doing some!) would bring definite benefits.

Booost is currently on an introductory price of £7 per can, and can be bought directly from their website. If you do give it a go, why not let us know how you get on in the comments? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Is "Geek" Still An Offensive Term Or Something To Take Pride In?

This is a guest post by Tom Demers. Tom writes about endpoint security for companies like Bit9.

A diagram of geek culture

Diagram of geek culture - click for larger version

The word “geek” is thought to have originated from sideshows and circus performers, and its earliest meaning was very derogatory. It usually was used in reference to someone who was offensive, foolish or worthless. However, this word has gone through a long evolution, and it now commonly refers to computer programmers and technology buffs.

So, is this term still offensive? Honestly, it’s a little hard to say. Many geeks openly refer to themselves with this term, but there are also many that use it as an insult. It all really comes down to the use of the word and personal feelings on the matter.

Good Usage
As stated above, the usage of the word “geek” can be either good or bad. Self-professed geeks often use it as a glorifying term, because it shows that said person is often very intelligent and tends to have an obsession with technology or is able to create unusual objects.

In this light, geek is not an offensive term. Many geeks, and friends of geeks, tend to use it as an endearing term or a way to easily describe the geek’s interests. When used in this manner it can be playful and fun to use. It also gives a sense of camaraderie for fellow geeks, as they know they will fit into this group rather well.

There are also many establishments that use the word “geek” as a good term. For example, Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” is seen as a technologically life-saving team of professionals that are great with hardware, software and anything else technical. The website “WiseGEEK” is a huge article directory that lists thousands of articles, and it is seen as a very good resource for people looking for information.

In these ways, geek is a good term that is being used more and more often within social circles both between geeks and for people who associate with them.

Bad Usage
There are those that use it inappropriately. This usage was huge during the 70s and 80s, though it has largely died down as geek awareness and glorification became larger. However, you can still hear it in schools, movies and other walks of life.

The bad usage of “geek” paints geeks as people that are obsessed with the intellectual pursuits. This isn’t bad, and usually is the truth. However, it makes geeks appear enfeebled when it comes to living outside of textbooks and technology, which is very far from the truth.

Between the nerd and geek wars, geeks are more often social and tend to have a good amount of friends. While there are of course some that can be considered shut-ins, these people exist in all niches. Being a geek does not mean you are locked in your house, tinkering away with technology in your mom’s basement. In this way, it makes geeks seem unable to live outside of their small world of circuit boards, books and films.

Geek Chic
Another point of contention is geek chic. This is a style movement that focuses on the stereotypical aspects of being a geek. This includes the thick-rimmed glasses, pocket protectors and shirts with in-jokes.

To some, this is a way to openly express their geek identity. For others, it is a stereotypical market that picks up only a few characteristics that geeks are known for having—but do not necessarily apply to the whole spectrum—but leave the identity of the geek entirely devoid of its true personality.

This is similar to the entire usage of the word, which can be good or bad. Overall, many people have been positive to the geek chic culture, but there are those that find it offensive.

Conclusion
So, is the term “geek” still offensive? Some people definitely still use it this way, but the bad usage has been dying down in the last few decades. People commonly use this term in a favorable sense when talking about technology buffs, and fellow geeks now use the term to glorify their intellectual pursuits.

Overall, the meaning of this term has completely changed. It went from one that had an absolutely bad connotation to one that is used in a good sense. So, when someone calls you a geek, don’t feel bad about it. It’s usually a compliment, and should be taken that way.

Orange wants to invest in Different Business

This is a sponsored post. Click here to find out what that means.

Orange: Different BusinessI have to admit it… I really enjoy watching Dragon's Den. I love seeing the ideas people come up with for businesses, how they try to convince the Dragons that they are worth investing in, and which ones succeed in doing so. If people come in with solid ideas and innovative products, they stand a good chance of attracting an investor.

Interestingly, UK telecoms company Orange recently announced that they are looking to invest in up and coming companies through their Different Business competition.

They are offering a prize package that includes business planning advice and mentoring, mobile communication devices and plans, marketing consultancy, legal advice and investment capital. In total, the prize package is worth up to £200,000 – an invaluable investment if you're looking to start your own company. 

How do you get your hands on this prize package? Well, visit the Win Your Business website and apply. Orange's panel of judges will be looking for something unique – different ideas and approaches, clear strategies… something worth funding. Just make sure you have really thought your business through, as they will also be looking for financial projections and details as well as your inspiring vision.

Let me tell you that I started my own business a little over a year ago, and I would have jumped at the chance to have a business planning mentor, legal expert, and marketing consultant by my side. That's before we even get to the help a cash injection and the provision of mobile communication equipment can give to a fledgling company! If you have a different business idea – not necessarily a completely new product, but perhaps a new approach to an existing problem – it's got to be worth your time to enter and see how you do, don't you think?

Sponsored Post – I will receive financial payment for posting this article. Please be aware that I will never accept offers of paid posts where I am required only to give a positive opinion – objectivity is important to me and you can be sure that what I write, even in paid posts, is what I really think.

TEDxGlasgow Education Roundup

Have you heard of TED? No, we’re not talking about a person here – we’re talking about the global phenomenon that brings together people from Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) to deliver some truly inspiring talks. If you want to hear some of those talks, head on over to TED.com and do some exploring. There’s a fair chance you’ll get lost there for hours as you listen to what the delegates have to say.

As well as the main TED conferences, there are a host of independently organised TEDx events, and I was lucky enough to get along to TEDxGlasgow last weekend. It was an amazing experience, and I want to share some of what was said there with you. I was there for six hours, so we’re going to split this over a few posts. This is a summary of the first “block” of the day – on the theme of education. To follow will be posts about Health & Wellbeing and Enlightened Economy.

Carol Craig – Enlightenment in the age of materialism

The subject for the whole conference was “Enlightenment 2.0”, so Carol’s thoughts formed the starting point for what came afterwards. She spoke about how Glasgow was the home for much of the work Adam Smith did. Adam Smith had a great concern for the poor, and believed that if the country as a whole were richer, the poor would benefit. This hasn’t happened, though: the country is richer than it was, but the poor are still poor. Why? One reason is materialism, which makes people buy more and more stuff so that others will look on them more favourably. Materialism makes us measure ourselves by how other people will look at us. Many parents now believe that the best thing they can do for their children is buy them more things, to the detriment of enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

Carol pointed out that a good life is not about buying new and better stuff and, in fact, the celebrities we see with the “best” lives are those who have realised their fame and wealth aren’t their most important assets – the celebrities who lend their influence to being ambassadors and advocates.

Carol’s big idea is this: get clued up – realise what materialism is, and what it’s doing. Switch the TV off – evade the constant stream of marketing that tells us the way to happiness is to buy more. Talk about it – with parents, with friends, with organisations… talk about the fact that materialism isn’t the answer to our happiness problems.

The enlightenment was all about shining a light into dark places. The enlightenment 2.0 is about doing that again.

Sir Ken Robinson – Bring on the learning revolution!

Next up, a video of Sir Ken Robinson talking about education:

Donald Clark – More pedagogic change in 10 years than last 1000 years – all driven by technology

What a title! And if you’re like me, your first question is, “what’s pedagogic?”. Check out the definition of pedagogy, and this will hopefully make a little more sense!

Donald’s contention is that the education system is outdated. It’s based on an agricultural calendar, and based largely on the idea of the lecture. That is, someone imparting knowledge to a (hopefully) receptive class of students. That style doesn’t work very well, though, and a far better system of education is to be proactive and interactive. The Internet allows for this interaction and proactivity, but also brings with it an ease of replication that allows lessons to be copied and distributed easily… it makes learning scalable.

What was interesting was when Donald pointed out that the idea of allowing students to work in their own environments, with appropriate support, was not new. The Open University pioneered this with their distance/supported learning concept – it just hasn’t taken off with the rest of the educational establishment.

Donald summed up with a catchy line: the learning revolution has already started!

Jane Ballantine – Stop the revolutions and let education evolve!

As a counterpoint to Donald’s talk, Jane Ballantine asked us this question, “What if the system is not actually broken?”. Technology obviously has a large role to play in education, but Jane pointed out that tech is not undergoing a revolution – it’s undergoing evolution. The educational system, then, should also be allowed to evolve rather than being scrapped and reformed.

What’s the point of education? Jane states that education exists to challenge preconceptions, open minds, and create opportunity.

Interestingly, Jane did finish with some thoughts on the use of mobile devices in education, and said that she saw mLearning as a major growth area in future years.

Dr Pauline Dixon – How private schools are serving the poorest

Dr Pauline Dixon was up next, talking about private schools. The accepted wisdom about private schools is that they are the preserve of the elite. If they are affordable for the poor, they must be substandard. Is that true?

In Hyderabad, 60% of the schools in slum areas are private (fee paying) and low cost. In that city alone, around a quarter of a million children are being taught in these private schools. In fact, private, fee paying education forms the majority of the educational opportunities in developing countries.

Parents say that private schools are of a higher quality than their free, state-run counterparts. This is, in part, because they pay a fee and have some comeback on the school if their children are not being taught satisfactorily. After all, if you are paying for a service you expect to have the right to complain if it’s not good enough.

The takeaway point from this talk, for me, was that poor parents still want to make good choices for their children. They still want to see them educated, and they are willing to pick the best school, even if that means paying, to enable that to happen. And another thing… accountability matters.

Raghava KK – Shake up your story

OK, up next was another video with some great thoughts on perspectives.

At this point, we went for a discussion/tea/coffee/toilet break and my head was already overflowing with the fantastic stuff we had heard. If you were there, and if I have missed anything, please feel free to contribute in the comments… I am very aware that my notes don’t cover everything that was said, and perhaps something caught your ear that missed mine.

And don’t forget to come back to find out what was said about Health & Wellbeing and Enlightened Economy too.